Never Too Late.

It’s safe to say that there are many people out there in the world (myself included) who have always lived under the belief that the age of 30 is considered the cut-off as to when we should be married, ready to have children, and can no longer do the things we used to when we were younger. We can’t run as fast, lift as much, stay up as late, etc. It also seems to be the cut-off where we think that we can’t really change anything about our lives. We are who we are, and that’s the way life is going to be until the day it ends.

A good friend of mine brought this belief to my attention, and that’s when I realized how much I invested my own belief in it. I have been stressing myself out as a single, 25 year old woman, thinking that I am running out of time to find someone to spend the rest of my life with, thinking that I only have five years to get married and start a family. I’ve had my heart broken twice in the past year and a half and joined dating sites to try and get myself out there, because I’ve been so stuck in this idea that my time to do so is running short. But why did I believe it so strongly?

As I thought more about it, I realized that our society has adopted the idea as a whole. So often on TV, in movies, and in our own lives, we are seeing people as young as the age of 21 falling in love, getting married, and starting a family not too long afterwards. The thought that someone younger than us finding eternal love and happiness while we are struggling to do so is discouraging, and only further ingrains the idea in our heads that we may be running low on time. Now, this is not to say that the fact that this is happening for young people is a bad thing. I do, in actuality, envy them. After losing love myself, I want nothing more than to find it again because of how wonderful it feels. I have a vast amount of friends who found their forever mate in college and are now either married or engaged to be. Some of them are expecting their first child or have one or two children already, all before the age of 26. This makes so many of us in our early 20s feel like we are falling behind the expectation, or like there’s something wrong with us because we haven’t made it there yet.

I’m here to tell you to STOP thinking that. I’m here to tell myself to stop thinking that.

There is no set deadline as to when this is supposed to happen. For one thing, worrying about it may cause you to rush into something because of this idea that you don’t have much time left, and it won’t end up lasting, leaving you looking for it all over again. For another, it’s just stupid! Love takes time, and if you don’t go about it with the attention that it needs, it will suffer. Plus, while finding someone to spend your life with is important, what’s more important is making sure that your life in its individuality is enough to make you happy. If it’s not, you need to do that before you worry about bringing in someone else. And it is okay to take as much time as you need to do that, because again, your age has nothing to do with when or how this should happen.

The other side of the belief is that once you’ve hit that 30-year mark, your life has hit a plateau and will become a monotonous day-to-day routine that you cannot change, because 30 is “too old” to do anything else except be a mom or dad with a job and children to take care of. This belief is also a load of BS.

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The same friend who brought this idea to my attention was kind enough to contribute her own “screw you” story to this stupid belief, and I really loved what she had to say:

Last week, a friend of mine shared a post on Facebook about her 38 year old, full-time engineer, mother of four, sister-in-law who recently placed first for women and 6th overall in a marathon in Salt Lake City. My friend was congratulating her sister-in-law for this accomplishment, but also thanking her for the reminder that our mid 20s don’t have to be the peak time of our lives. This post got me thinking about my own life. I’m 35, a full-time special education teacher, and a mother of two. The internet is filled with blogs (mostly written by people much younger than me) about all the things you’re supposed to stop doing or wearing at a certain age. These blogs suggest that 30 is old and nothing new or fun can happen beyond 30. I mean, sure, I get tired staying out past 10:00pm on the weekends and drinking three beers in a night will now give me a headache in the morning. And, it’s true that I’m much more content staying home on the weekends, bingeing on Netflix, and spending time with my husband. But, as I mentioned earlier, I’m 35 with two kids and a full-time job. That’s a lot of fucking work, people! Fortunately, I also happen to be happily married for the last 11 years, so that makes staying home on the weekends a lot more fun. But, none of these things mean that I can’t try new things or reinvent myself now that I’ve become a member of the “over 30” crowd. I started thinking of all the things that I started doing after I turned 30, and hopefully I can spread some hope to the “under 30” crowd that you can grow up, start adulting, and still enjoy life. *Disclaimer, none of these are at the Eat, Pray, Love/wild level, so lower your expectations*:

  1. I started running. 5ks were trendy and everyone seemed to be doing them, so I thought, “What the hell?” Turns out, running is stupid hard, especially when you have asthma. But I downloaded the couch to 5k app, got some fairly decent shoes, and started preparing for the Brookfield Zoo 5k. I was proud of myself for choosing to run (despite not being chased by zombies) and working through shin splints, sore muscles, and feeling that I was going to pass out and die at any given moment during my run. It felt rewarding to push myself to do something difficult and find success in it. This lasted one whole summer. Then I decided running was overrated and moved on to not running, which was way more fun.
  2. I taught myself how to crochet. I love watching TV. It’s what I do to relax and turn my mind off at the end of the day. But I really needed something to do while I binge watched Parks and Rec for the third time (and playing Candy Crush Saga was pretty soul-sucking). I have a few friends and family that were always crocheting such cute hats and stuffed animals and I wanted to get in on that. So, for Christmas, I asked for crochet hooks and taught myself how to crochet. I realize that some view knitting and crocheting as an “old lady” habit, but, whatever, I can make stuff out of yarn and you can’t. But in all seriousness, there’s major satisfaction derived from teaching yourself a new skill and using that skill to create something.
  3. I took dance class! In kindergarten I took ballet, but only one class. I thought it was boring, though I’m pretty sure it was a bit pricey for my parents at the time. My sister ended up being the dancer in the family and danced from age five to adulthood. I got to watch her dance at recitals and competitions and realized how much I really love dance. In high school, I was a cheerleader and eventually a pom, so I got to do some dancing at a real basic level. Now, my daughter is dancing and her studio started offering adult dance classes. Sign me up! The first class was a ballet/lyrical combo and I loved it. I might not have any technique to speak of, but I got the basic idea and enjoyed getting some much needed exercise while still having fun (see: running). This summer I’ve been taking tap. I’ve always wanted to take a tap class and was not going to pass up this opportunity. I’m the only one in the class of four who has never taken a tap class before, but I love the challenge. I also learned the importance of the saying, “Fake it ’til you make it.” I’m getting quite good at it. Faking it, that is.
  4. I challenged myself to read 50 books in a year. This one I’m still working on. The closest I’ve ever gotten is 47 books in a year (I read ten books that summer alone!). I love reading and found that I was reading less and less as life got busy. When I started working in DeKalb, I discovered audiobooks and began listening to books on the way to work (it totally counts!). There are just so many books and so little time to read them all. Challenging myself has made me a little pickier about what I read, too. I no longer waste my time finishing a book just to say I finished it when I could be reading something amazing instead.
  5. I took time for myself. When I first got married, I didn’t have a full-time teaching job and was subbing. In the beginning, being a substitute led to a lot of days home alone waiting for my husband and pathetically codependent. Eventually, I got a full-time job and became busier. Then we started having kids (all two of them) and I realized how I never had any alone time anymore. I love my husband and kids, but I wanted to make sure that I kept my own identity as a person and not just be known as someone’s wife or mother. So I try to make sure that I’m making my own plans to go out with my friends, shop alone, get a pedicure, or just shut myself up in my room for 30 minutes to watch Parks and Rec (it’s seriously the best) so that I can take a break from life and be the best me I can be. The best advice I can give a new or a stressed out mom is: what’s good for mama is good for the baby. When we’re stressed out or unhappy, our families see that and can feed off that. Taking care of myself is one of the most important things I can do to take care of my family.

Things I’m still working on as an adult:

  1. Talking to strangers, both in person and on the phone (the struggle is real)
  2. Backing out of my driveway and not looking like an ass (it’s angled and stupid)
  3. Going to bed at a reasonable hour on a work night (getting up early is the worst)
  4. Regularly exercising and eating healthy (ugh!)
  5. Clumsiness
  6. Remembering pretty much anything not written down
  7. Gossiping
  8. Being politically informed and up to date on current events (it’s just so boring!)
  9. Spending less time on my phone (FOMO is a real thing)
  10. Spelling (sp?)

I’m proud of myself for trying new things and branching out. It’s easy to become complacent and get bogged down by the monotony of our daily lives. Boring can be good sometimes, but I strive to try new things every now and again. I’m halfway through my 30s and I definitely haven’t peaked yet. That makes me happy 🙂 ” — Andrea S.

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All of what she had to say is absolutely true. Your 20s are not your peak time, and who was the boss man/woman who decreed that they were? No takers? EXACTLY. This idea has somehow become almost like a law that we all unintentionally follow, and I am so glad that Andrea brought this to my attention so that I could stop conforming to it and enjoy my solitude while I have it. I actually saw a video on Facebook today of a man in his 50s who is more ripped and built than the majority of the male friends my age that work out on a daily basis. His reason for continuing to work out in his 50s? Age doesn’t define your ability if you believe that you are capable. And let me tell you, the videos of this man exercising had me in awe and feeling an immense amount of respect for him (in addition to feeling super inadequate in comparison to his massive muscles).

My overall point in writing this post is this: stop thinking that you need to accomplish certain life milestones by a particular age. Stop thinking that you are “too old” to try new things, no matter how difficult, once that age passes. Stop thinking that you are “too old” to reinvent yourself once that age passes. The way I see it, if you don’t see a certain age where you expect to “peak” or an age by which you expect all of these milestones to be reached, then you will live your life constantly exploring, growing, and discovering new things about yourself. It is never, ever too late to find love, to learn a new skill, or to build off of yourself and make yourself stronger, deeper, and more well-rounded. And if you ask me, that sounds a hell of a lot more fun than peaking and then living the life of monotony into which so many people fall because they invest so much in this belief. Go against the grain. Do the unexpected. Have faith in yourself and in the universe, God, or whatever you believe in to give you the things you seek when it’s the right time for them to appear, and have faith in yourself to never settle. Keep growing. Keep exploring. Do not let your age define you. Do not let your age hold you back from becoming the best version of yourself that you can possibly be.

Mischief Managed.

“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” — Albus Dumbledore

I know, I know, it was only a matter of time before one of my posts related to Harry Potter; but, in my haze of painkillers and being bedridden due to my tonsillectomy, I decided that I wanted to write a post illustrating why this worldwide phenomenon means so much to so many people. Why does this story manage to touch not only children, but people older than the ones who grew up with it?

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I remember reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in elementary school and immediately upon finishing it, I was hooked. My little, young mind was swimming with visions of animated, edible chocolate frogs, paintings that moved and talked, and giant stadiums where people were flying on broomsticks to play a sport that somehow felt oddly real. Not only that, but the magic that I had always pretended to possess while playing make-believe with my friends was suddenly within my reach. I was able to lose myself in a world that I had never dreamed would come to life for me. I found a strange sense of belonging in a world that both didn’t exist and entirely existed at the same time.

Now, I went to college majoring in English and was exposed to what are considered the best-written stories of all-time, and I don’t contest with any that I have read. But in my education, I’ve also learned what makes a good story, and I think that that’s why at the age of 25, I look back on this series and realize in an entirely different light how incredibly brilliant it truly is. I understand, at least logistically, why this series is now considered one of the best of all-time. I could sit here and spend hours talking about J.K. Rowling’s knack for details, double meanings, and creating a world that is unlike any that has ever been created before. I could talk about how she accurately connects the meanings of various characters’ names to their personalities. How she created detailed back stories and family trees for all of her characters. I could talk about how intricately woven the plot is, and how this magical world goes from being fantastical and wondrous to dark and dangerous in a matter of pages. But in all honesty, it’s more than logistics and clever writing that make a story truly great.

The truth of it is that J.K. Rowling created a home away from home. There are characters in this story that any person could connect with. Characters for the bookworms (Hermione and Neville), for the outcasted (Harry, Draco, and Luna), and for the goofy but loyal (Ron, Fred, and George). The famous trio became friends of my own, and I literally grew up alongside them as if we were in fact attending Hogwarts together. I was the around the same age as Harry is in The Sorcerer’s Stone the first time I picked it up, and for the years that followed, I caught up with the ones that were already released, patiently awaited the new ones to be released, and I evolved along with them.

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I grew up with a vividly wild imagination, and I still possess it. I thought that the worlds created in my games of make-believe were exciting, that is, until I picked up a Harry Potter book. It was then that I was whisked away into a place that I finally felt I belonged. I’ve always been a bit of an odd bird, an old soul, a bit of a nerd. While I didn’t grow up with a difficult childhood and got along with everyone, being different than basically all of my friends meant that there was always an essence of loneliness at times. I mentioned in a previous blog post that even in high school, there was never one group at school that I felt I really “belonged” in, though the closest I got to that was with my theatre friends. But at Hogwarts, my eccentric and knowledge-seeking self felt right at home amongst the likes of Professor Trelawney and Luna Lovegood. There’s really no other way I can think to describe the experience of reading and experiencing these books other than “magical.” I clung to every word on each of those pages, and they made me feel something that in my pre-teens, I had not yet felt in life.  The reality for me is that reading has forever been an escape; a place where I can live the life of someone else and forget my own for awhile, especially during times of hardship, heartbreak, or sorrow. It’s a place where I can wrap myself up in eloquent words and evocative scenes and lose myself completely. But this story…this story is why I find reading beautiful. This story is why I want my students to read. This story is what inspires me to play, imagine, and never lose my sense of childhood wonder. This story is what made me who I am.

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I dressed up on a costume day at school in my full Hufflepuff garb — robe, tie, time turner and all. My students loved it!

I will never in my life forget the night I finished The Deathly Hallows. I had bought it the day before when it had been released and had read it from the moment I woke up until the moment I fell asleep with it in my hands. I can still remember the ache in my neck and behind my eyes as I sat on my living room couch, with a single lamp on behind me, powering through how tired I was so that I could finish it. I remember finishing the chapter in which Snape’s true intentions are revealed, and my heart breaking into a million pieces for a man who I, like Harry, was blinded by hatred for. I remember thinking about everything that he had ever done in the series and it all finally clicking and making sense, and the knowledge that this revelation came too late had tears spilling in rivers onto my shirt. He was gone, and Harry would never be able to reconcile with him. would never be able to reconcile with him and apologize for my blatant dislike of his character. It broke me. The deaths of Tonks, Lupin, and Fred broke me further afterwards. As I neared the final chapter somewhere around 2am, I remember feeling panic well in my chest. Is it really over? No, it can’t be over. There’s no way that it’s going to be over with the turn of a page. And then I got to those last words of the epilogue: “All was well.” It was as if the Hogwarts Express had crashed through my living room and run me over. I had already sobbed heavily at the deaths of so many of my favorite characters in the previous chapters, but the sobbing that commenced when I finally brought myself to close the back cover was a sorrow I had never felt for another book in my life. Though I knew they were still eternally alive within the many, many pages of the series and on the silver screen, I felt like a life that had been separate from my own had ended. Luckily for me, and for so many others, this story has lived far past the day that the final movie premiered, and for me, Hogwarts will always be home, and this story will never die.

Because of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, I am forever changed and forever grateful. I am forever a proud Hufflepuff whose favorite professor was killed in the Battle of Hogwarts. I am forever that little girl who picked up a book with a boy wearing round glasses and a lightning scar on the cover and had her life changed for the better.

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Trying to sum up why other people love this story was difficult because there are so many different facets to cover, and it put this blog post on hold for a week as I typed and deleted, typed and deleted. Suddenly, an idea spawned in my head: what better way to help explain this than with the help of others? I decided that I wanted to reach out to fellow Potterheads of mine and ask them why this story meant so much to them. You have read my own account, and the responses I received from my friends do not disappoint. The glorious and heartwarming truth of it is that this story means something to each person for his or her own unique reason. Here is what my fellow Potterheads had to say:

Jen P. — age 37:

“Harry Potter was the story I looked for as a kid. It’s what I wished for when I was little, but had to settle for as an adult.”

**Jen would have written more, but when I contacted her, she was in the deep north woods with horrendous service on her cell phone. She is one of the most dedicated HP fans I have ever known, and she got to be in the wand-choosing ceremony at Universal Studios, which I will forever be jealous about.**

Samantha T. — age 26:

“Well, my reason is much more sentimental than most. My dad was reading the series while he was sick and dying. He died before the seventh book was released, so he himself never got to finish. So, I set out to finish what he started. [What made me fall in love with it was] the message of life and death and good vs. evil. Harry was surrounded by loss but he persevered and pushed through to defeat the source of darkness that took so many he loved from him. It’s relatable, really, more than anything.”

FullSizeRender.jpgSamantha’s tattoo on her side; the quote from the book is in honor of her dad. This is one of my favorite Deathly Hallows symbol tattoos that I’ve ever seen.

Tyler B. — age 22:

“Harry Potter is far more than a book or film series; it’s what saved my life and a part of who I am now. I first started reading it when my parents were getting a divorce and used it as an escape from all the fighting and stress that a divorce causes […] It helped me compartmentalize what was happening to my family and showed me that things can be bad and good at the same time […] Pretty much, it taught me more than all the child counselors I was seeing at the time taught me. I always go back to The Order of the Phoenix as the book to give me answers when I need them […] In OOTP, all [Harry’s] friends and all the people in the world that brought him happiness suddenly leave him and make him alone again. And that feeling of the people you care about, and who care about you, all of a sudden leaving you and crushing you hit me so hard. Even though I was making friends, I always felt like I was alone because certain parts of my life weren’t complete, like my family. We didn’t have all the money or luxuries as some of my classmates, we still fought and yelled at each other and didn’t show enough love […] So reading about [Harry’s] loneliness and reading about how his friends all thought ignoring him was best for him made me feel like my loneliness was meant to be better for me. But, it wasn’t until the Department of Mysteries scene where the whole crew came with Harry regardless of if he wanted them there or not that it dawned on me that I was pushing people away as much as I was thinking they were leaving me. I struggle with constantly feeling alone and reading Harry Potter always reminds me that I’m not alone […] I use the books to work through my problems because there are so many things Harry or other characters go through that teach you [something…] The ease with which I was able to connect with Harry and most of the characters allowed me to feel a part of something when I felt like I was attached to nothing. And that’s also what the Harry Potter community does for me too […] It makes me feel surrounded by people who like me and want me around just because of the fact we all like Harry Potter […] Most of this community goes unspoken and that’s what a lot of my problems have been like: existing without being talked about. But this community has also healed me without being talked about and that’s what’s so great about it. I’m alone, but not really alone. I’m able to be a part of something bigger but still work through my own problems how I see fit.”

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Tyler’s tattoos: on his arm, the symbol of the Deathly Hallows (I have a smaller version on my arm), and on his hand, the script that Professor Umbridge forced into Harry’s hand in The Order of the Phoenix (this is probably one of my favorite HP tattoos that I’ve ever seen); on his middle finger is the Elder Wand; on his index finger is the sword of Gryffindor. I love that both are “piercing” him underneath his knuckles.

Rachel M. — age 19:

“There are 1,084,170 words in the Harry Potter series, yet I am having the hardest time using just a few to describe my immense appreciation for it. It’s almost funny to think that I am the person I am today because of books, but it’s very true. I was blessed enough to get my paws on The Sorcerer’s Stone during a very pivotal time in my life. Right before I was introduced to Harry and the gang, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. As the wise Professor Dumbledore once said, ‘Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.’ Escaping to Hogwarts, if only for a short period of time, was my light. It gave me the hope and courage I needed to get through the day. I picked up the first book nine years ago, and I have yet to leave Hogwarts. It’s my home…And I will always be grateful for the seven books that got me there.”

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Rachel, channeling her inner Draco Malfoy. I made this Slytherin scarf for her as a graduation present.

Lauren D. — age 25:

“The Harry Potter series has always been immensely important to me. I began reading them when they were first published, and I was instantly swept into the Wizarding World. These books took my love of reading to new heights as I absorbed every word written on the page, and anxiously awaited for the next book to be released. It was as if I, too, was partaking in the adventures and facing the dangers along with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. The depths of J.K. Rowling’s writing created a world in which I could not help but be fully drawn into. It was as if Hogwarts itself rose out of the paragraphs and filled my bedroom with magic. I truly felt connected to the characters and became invested in their well-being. I found pieces of myself in each of the characters that I had never found in any other book. I have never been considered popular, and growing up, much less so. I was the smallest in my grade, I loved school, and I was very shy. I found myself connecting the most to Harry, Ron, and Hermione because at one time or another, they were seen as outcasts. Harry was ignored by the Dursleys, as was I by my classmates. Hermione valued education, and her intelligence was one of her greatest assets. Similarly, I have used my love of learning to propel myself further in my career. Ron was good for a quick joke, but often exiled by other Purebloods because he did not fit their mold as a proper Pureblood. As with Ron, I found myself not given a chance by my peers due to preconceived notions. For one reason or another, I didn’t have any true friends, but I always felt as though I did when I opened a Harry Potter book. Looking closely at the saga, important life lessons are integrated seamlessly into the plot. These life lessons are not exclusive to a world with magic, and easily transfer to one without (but sorely in need of it). Through the Harry Potter series, readers are taught about character, love, and sacrifice. They’re told that what matters is what a person makes of their life, not the family or status they were born into; how to treat others, especially those who are depicted as lower class; true love is not always romantic, but it can always conquer all; sometimes we feel too much is being asked of us, but we must rise to the occasion to the best of our ability. However, I believe the most important lesson that can be acted on is that discrimination and hatred of a particular group is detrimental to society. Those that use innocent groups of people as scapegoats have their hearts full of hatred. This hatred must be overcome by society joining together to stand up and show that hatred has no place.”

Lauren R. — age 24:

“I always say that I grew up in the Harry Potter Generation. Friends and family my age, and even those younger and older than me became enchanted by the Harry Potter books. It was a way for many to not only lose themselves and their worries in the pages of great books, but also a way to connect with people you may not have otherwise connected with. For me, reading and watching Harry Potter brought me into a world where magic was real and great friendship and loyalty mattered most. What makes Harry Potter important to me above all other reasons is the bond it created between my family. My mom, siblings, cousins, and even some of my aunts are all huge Harry Potter fans. We were always close, and frankly didn’t need to find a reason to get even closer, but Harry Potter managed to bring us together even more. Some of my cousins would even wait at the midnight release of the next book at Borders, then go straight home and start reading it together in one room, nearly finishing it in one sitting. I can’t think of any other series that had this kind of effect on my loved ones. Growing up, my siblings and I would always watch the latest Harry Potter movie at the theater with my cousins, sometimes holding hands through the intense action scenes. We would then go home and talk about the movie and how it did or did not match the book. We would make predictions and be excited about the next book release, then movie release. When the final Harry Potter movie was in theaters in July of 2011, our grandpa passed away. He was sick for awhile, and his suffering had finally come to an end. My parents, grandmother, aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins all stood in his hospital room in the ICU as his breathing and his heartbeat stopped. That moment and then next few days were very emotional for all of us, and we stayed close. At our grandfather’s wake, my cousins and I all decided to buy tickets online to see the last Harry Potter together in theaters that night. As always, Harry Potter brought us comfort, it eased our worries and pain from the outside world. It distracted us for a little while from the sad and painful events of that week and it brought us together. The way I see it, two big parts of my life came to an end of sorts at the same time. Both my grandpa and Harry Potter ended their stories in July 2011. Myself and others will always keep their spirits alive, but their original existence came to an end. July 2011 was a very emotional month for me and I now connect my love for my grandpa to my love for Harry Potter. Each reminds me of the other because of what took place. Now, Harry Potter is what I read and/or watch on a rainy day, when I’m sick, when I’m sad, when I’m happy, when I need encouragement, and when I’m trying to fall asleep. It is my ultimate comfort and brings back memories of my childhood, the bond with my family, my grandpa, and now even my wedding, because my husband and I were nerdy enough to have a Harry Potter themed wedding.”

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I had the honor of photographing Lauren’s Harry Potter themed wedding, and oh my Lord, was it amazing. I wish I could post all of the photos of the centerpieces without making this post super long. Lauren made all of the centerpieces herself, the Monster Book of Monsters included. I was a kid in a candy store. All of the people who attended the wedding had been sorted, and their houses were printed on their placement cards. Lauren walked down the aisle to music from the movie. All of the bridesmaids and groomsmen had house scarves. It was absolutely incredible.

Cori S. — age 35:

“I was introduced to Harry Potter as a college freshman, back in 1999. A friend handed me a paperback copy of The Sorcerer’s Stone and said, ‘Just read it.’ In other words, ‘Yeah, it’s a story with a kid and magic and wizards, sounds crazy, but you’ll love it.’ So, I read it. I fell in love. I then read The Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban, and anxiously awaited the midnight release of The Goblet of Fire. I was 18 in 1999, and thus 25 (nearly 26) at the release of The Deathly Hallows. The height of my Harry Potter consumption (1999 to 2007) was during late adolescence/early adulthood. One of the coolest things about Harry Potter fandom is the shared cultural experience. I attended midnight release parties with my friends and introduced the series to my then-boyfriend (now husband). After the release of The Deathly Hallows, knowing it would be the last in the series, my friends and I set limits to the number of chapters we would read, meeting at regular intervals to discuss the book. Love for Harry Potter transcends age groups. I have been teaching since 2006, and I have had the pleasure of introducing Harry Potter to elementary students, talking about the books with my first few classes of middle school students, and bonding over the near-obsession with high school students. My high school Book Club is full of students who cite Harry Potter as the origin of their love of reading. Over the past 15 years or so, I have heard many book series declared “The next Harry Potter.” In my opinion, no series given this declaration has ever come close to achieving the beloved status of Harry Potter. The influence of the Boy Who Lived has been present in my life for the past 18 years, and I will certainly continue to share and discuss the series for years to come.” 

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Cori received the above picture as a gift from the same friend who encouraged her to read Harry Potter in the first place.

Christina B. — age 31

“So, I struggled a little to figure out why specifically Harry Potter resonated with me. Part of it is the age I was when I started reading them — I was in middle school, and in a lot of ways kind of grew up with Harry Potter and his friends. Part of it is that I really do enjoy fantasy novels. What I decided in the end that it comes down to, though, is that I love Harry Potter because it’s real. I know that sounds weird to say about a series of books with magic and wizards, and of course I don’t mean the magic and the wizards are real. What I mean is, the characters are real. They have strengths, but also weaknesses. They doubt themselves, make mistakes, and sometimes fight with each other. They endure sometimes overwhelming setbacks and obstacles and risks. Despite that, though, many of them make the choice to keep going and to persevere. This refers, yes, to Harry, Ron, and Hermione, but also to characters that, in many other novels, tend to get overlooked or portrayed as two-dimensional. I love that Neville, who so many people completely write off as being helpless or useless, contributes to saving the day in the end. I love that the character you spend the first couple of books hating ends up being one of the most selfless. I love that Luna, who initially just seems weird, ends up being strong and brave (without losing her weirdness!). I guess it comes down to the idea that everyone is capable, if they so choose, of contributing something of value to the world.”

Thomas M. — age 26:

“So, I think what started my love for the Harry Potter series was how it allowed me to immerse myself in a different world. A world of magic and adventure, love and friendship, adversity and the strength to overcome it. I was ten years old when I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was the first thing I woke up to on my birthday, wrapped and sticking halfway out from under my pillow. I couldn’t put it down! So, naturally, I finished it in three days. That’s when my obsession began. My mom brought me home the second that weekend. It was finished by the following Friday, and the third book the Friday after that. These books were a distraction from the chaos that had been my life at the time. My parents were freshly divorced and I was the second youngest of five to a newly single mother. These books gave me my own little escape from the hard times we were facing. In that, I found a new passion I never had before: to READ! Harry Potter made me realize early that the true gift of a good story can bring you to a different world with endless possibilities.”

As I received each of these testimonies, I found one common thread between all of them: this world is real for us, not because of the magic or wizardry, but because we all saw and still see so much of ourselves and our own struggles within the pages. While our choices for reading the story may be different, the truth remains that this story and community brings people together. It heals us, it comforts us, and it lets us escape, and that is why it’s beautiful.

As J.K. Rowling said at the final movie premiere in London, “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” This story has become home for so many people, and I will always open the front door with open arms to others that wish to live here with us.

Have your own story to share about how you came to find this beloved series? Share in the comments below! I would love to know your stories!

Baby Driver Review

**Spoilers for the movie ahead–turn your car around now if you have not seen it**

Immediately upon seeing previews for Edgar Wright’s movie Baby Driver, I thought three things: 1) ANSEL ELGORT AND LILY JAMES, 2) CAR CHASES, and 3) MUSIC. Three things that combined to have exponential potential to be one of the best movies of the year, and let me tell you, Baby Driver drove me crazy, baby. Almost as much as it drove my friend Rachel crazy when she learned that the theater we were at had Mr. Pibb.

CHARACTERS/CASTING

Ansel Elgort – Baby

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If the intense, brooding look in the photo doesn’t do it for you, then let me tell you right now that his charm will. I became a fan of Ansel Elgort after his on-point portrayal of Augustus Waters in The Fault in Our Stars, but this is a totally different role than I’ve ever seen him play. I thought that he communicated the dimension of Baby’s personality super well, and made it seamless for me to find him adorable, damaged, and completely badass all at the same time. I knew right away that I was going to love Elgort in this role as soon as the opening scene began, with him in the getaway car jamming by himself with his headphones in. Elgort basically did everything that we all do when we’re listening to music and think (and hope) that no one is watching. Wonderfully endearing. The endearment only increases during any and all scenes in which he interacts with his wheelchair-ridden, deaf foster father. Baby suffers from his own hearing issues (a constant hum/ringing in his head from a car accident as a child), so watching them communicate with sign language is beautiful and makes Baby a real person with something/someone to live for instead of a mindless criminal, which is honestly what the previews make him appear to be. I don’t even need to talk about watching him drive, rocking pair after pair of sunglasses (all of which look great on him), because let’s be real, that all speaks for itself. Overall, I thought Elgort was excellent, and he isn’t tough on the eyes, either.

Lily James – Debbie

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As a fan of Lily James from her days on Downton Abbey, I was wildly excited to see her in a role that wasn’t as a wealthy, British socialite or as Cinderella. I have always seen her in fancy dresses, hair done up, looking like utter perfection. In this movie, she dons a charming southern accent (which was super well done for someone who is English), a diner waitress’ uniform, curly hair, and the air of a girl who just wants to escape the life she has made for herself. While I thought James’ acting was lovely, I thought the character herself lacked some backstory and dimension, which isn’t a fault of James but a fault of the writers. We end up knowing nothing about her own life or why it is that she wants to just drive down the highway with nothing but her music and no looking back. Are we supposed to just believe that this girl is openly willing to hop into a car with a guy she’s only just met to leave town with no explanations as to why? Why is music so important to her? We know that it’s important to Baby because his late mother was a musician, but we lack that aspect of Baby and Debbie’s connection. When people are brought together through music, that underlying reason of its importance to the person only strengthens the connection between them, and I thought that was missing from this love story. Quite honestly, it’s one of my only real gripes about the movie. Debbie gets pulled into Baby’s world, but we get no look into her world. I know that her world isn’t meant to be the focus of the movie, but come on! Give my girl Debbie a little depth, Wright.

Kevin Spacey – Doc

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Everyone knows that Kevin Spacey is no stranger to being the mastermind, the bad guy, or the villain, so it won’t surprise anyone that he is excellent in this role. As Baby’s boss, Doc arranges all of the heists and hires the team. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Spacey do poorly on screen (though I haven’t seen every movie he’s ever been in), and I think his veteran status in Hollywood speaks for itself, here. As a character, I thought Doc was just another heartless criminal, but I liked that upon seeing Baby with Debbie his heart pulled a “Grinch” and grew three sizes that day and he chooses to help them–and, ya know, takes a shotgun to the back for them. He does this all because he knows what it means to be in love with someone. I was glad to see a redeeming quality in Doc before his time on screen ended, especially after seeing that his eight-year-old nephew knows fully well what his uncle is up to and treats it as nonchalantly as his uncle does, which made me really hate Doc at first. It showed that somewhere, deep down, Doc cares for Baby, even though he does not want to admit it and ruin his persona.

Jamie Foxx – Bats

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You know those characters that are so detestable, despicable, and infuriating that you can’t help but love them for their horribleness? That is Jamie Foxx in this movie, and he did a ridiculously good job making Bats the most hated character in the group. For anyone who watches Game of Thrones, think of Bats as the Petyr Baelish/Littlefinger of the group; someone who is so good at being bad that you admire his weasel-like ways while simultaneously hoping he catches the next bullet. As his name implies, Bats is a little/lot batshit crazy, and Foxx plays it so coolly that you almost believe he may be sane until he, well, acts the opposite. Foxx flipped the switch between calm/collected and off-his-rocker in split seconds, and I lived for the moments where he lost his cool. I think Foxx was perfect for this role, and I was beyond pleased with his performance.

Jon Hamm – Buddy

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I, personally, have not seen Jon Hamm in anything memorable, but like Jamie Foxx, he played the character on the verge of insanity well. At one point, Bats says something to Buddy and his girl, Darling, about why they rob banks: “You guys rob banks to support a drug habit, I do drugs to support a robbery habit.” So, we know that Buddy is into some illegal substances, which implies that he may not always be 100% able to control himself. And sure enough, we get to see Buddy get pushed over the edge when Darling gets shot and killed in their last heist. His confrontation with Baby (who he blames for the death of Darling) was akin to Jack Torrence coming after his wife in The Shining, except instead of wielding an ax, he is driving a cop car (intended as his weapon to run Baby over) and blasting what he knows is Baby’s lucky song. Before they head out on a heist, Baby shares with Buddy that “Brighton Rock” by Queen is his lucky song in a moment where we almost think that Buddy might not be that bad of a guy. Buddy blasts the song over the cop car’s speakers in what he hopes is a poetic and cathartic moment for himself, hoping to see Baby die to the tune of the song that has brought him luck in the past. Like Foxx, the coolness that Hamm exhibits with a character who is definitely about to snap is really well-communicated and I loved to hate him, too.

Eiza Gonzalez – Darling

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If there’s one thing that Eiza Gonzalez lives up to, it’s her character’s name: Darling. But for me, that’s really the only thing that she did for me. I thought out of all of the acting in the film, hers just didn’t match up to the rest of this all-star cast. Her character is blatantly there for the sex appeal, given her constant makeouts and suggestive conversations with Buddy about what they’ll do together after each heist is over. I know that the character’s function wasn’t Gonzalez’s choice, so again, this is a fault that I attribute to the writers. But the way that Gonzalez chooses to deliver her lines is a bit cheesy, and a majority of the time, it looks like she’s trying too hard to match the insanity of her co-stars. At one point she tries to tell Bats that he knows nothing about hers and Buddy’s life, but I couldn’t help but not care because I just didn’t find her character’s level of “crazy” as convincing as Hamm and Foxx. It’s intended to sound intense, but I found it as laughable as Bats does in the scene. The only line that I liked her delivery of is when she says, “When Buddy sees red, you’ll see nothing but black.” It may be an unpopular opinion, but she just didn’t do it for me compared to all of the other actors in this movie. She tried to portray herself as a force to be reckoned with, but I just saw her as more of a force to not take seriously, which is always a shame to see when it comes to female characters.

CINEMATOGRAPHY/SOUNDTRACK/ETC.

With my only real issues being the female characters in the film, I thought that literally everything else was top notch.

Let’s start with the soundtrack. My GOD, I thought that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. I had won the soundtrack battle for me, but this movie may have taken its place. The tracks chosen by Baby throughout the movie combine effortlessly with each scene, and give the movie a Starsky and Hutch-like vibe at times. Baby would go from funk to rock to hip-hop, and each one creates a distinctive mood within each scene throughout the whole film.

Secondly, I absolutely adored the fact that this movie felt like it was skipping around between the 1950s/60s/70s, both in the dressing of each scene and the dialogue/choreography. Baby and his foster father’s apartment has a clearly 70s vibe, as do some of the cars that Baby drives, but the diner at which Debbie works is clearly a tribute to diners of the 50s. Combine these scenes with the music choices, and you’re time traveling through various film eras from scene to scene. There’s quite a bit of dialogue throughout the film that echoes the writing from 50s films and gives this movie a charming, old-time feel at certain points, especially the scenes between Baby and Debbie. James adopts an airy, southern hybrid of the Transatlantic accent in some moments, which teleported me back to the era of Audrey Hepburn. As a lover of 1950s Hollywood/cinema, this is a particular aspect that made me all giddy inside. The choreography during the scenes in which Baby goes to pick up coffee for the teams parallels that of Gene Kelly. Granted, Elgort’s not dancing like Kelly was and they weren’t actual choreographed dance/tap numbers, but Elgort’s head-in-the-clouds movements, dancing from streetlight to streetlight had a very Singin’ in the Rain energy to it.

As I said before, the car chases and getaway scenes speak for themselves. While I have watched many a movie containing car chases, what I liked about this movie in particular is that each car chase scene is unique, and they each contribute to just how good Baby is at his job. He starts his first chase in a stick shift Subaru, drifting around corners and hopping medians, and then switches to everything from giant SUVs, sedans, and compact cars. And yes, he knows how to kick ass and make a getaway in all of them. Something unexpected happens in each one, which is refreshing to see after how many cookie-cutter car chases have zoomed throughout the history of cinema.

There are tons of movies about bank robberies, getaway cars/drivers, car chases, and criminals, but I think Baby Driver remains an original in the gamut of crime movies. We sympathize with Baby, we root for Baby, and we admire Baby’s devotion to his foster father and late mother. But most of all, the element of music being thrown into the mix is what makes this movie stand out from the others, as well as Wright’s attention to detail and cinematography. I especially loved the first time Baby goes to get coffee, and as the camera pans along with him dancing down the sidewalk, single words from the song playing are written on telephone poles, streetlights, and windows, appearing on cue with when the word is sung. It reminded me of some of the great, small detail work in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, another one of Wright’s movies.

Bottom line is, you do not want to miss this movie. It is the most original, nerve-wracking, exciting, and entertaining story I have seen in years.

The Age of Entitlement and Backwards Expectations

Before I begin my thoughts, I want to be sure that I address that this post is in no way, shape, or form directed at anyone that I know personally or that I am close to. This post is purely based on my own observations of people while working in the food service industry, random observations of people in public places, observations of the human existence, and observations as an educator.

Let me start off by saying that growing up, my parents instilled one thing in my brothers and I from the moment we could talk: treat everyone with respect. They told us to always respect our elders whether they were teachers, bosses, our friends’ parents, etc. because they are authority figures, and whether or not you agree with their opinions/rules, they are your superior and you always respect your superiors. Basically, they expected us to live by the Golden Rule, which is to treat everyone the way that we would like to be treated, and I have always lived my life that way. Throughout middle school, high school, and college, I never would have dreamed of talking back to or disputing a teacher (even if I disagreed with how they chose to run things), being rude to a waiter/waitress/retail worker, or treating any person, for that matter, with any level of disrespect or rudeness. I was taught that every person on this earth is fighting some kind of battle in his or her life, and therefore kindness and respect should be given to him or her until I am given a reason not to give it.

It appalls me how many times I have seen people (a lot of the time, adults) berate and publicly embarrass waiters/waitresses and retail workers for something that is beyond their control or not their decision. How many times the kitchen has unfortunately run out of something, and therefore it is somehow the waiter/waitress’ fault, and the customer feels the need to publicly humiliate him or her as a result. How many times a clothing store clerk has politely, yet visibly regrettably turned down a coupon that has expired, and the customer feels the need to scream at this worker and degrade him or her when it was not this worker’s decision to no longer accept the coupon, and it was in fact the company’s policy. I recently read an article discussing how the phrase, “The customer is always right,” is an absolute load of bull, and after witnessing the many situations that I have, both as an observer and as a worker in the food service industry, I have to agree wholeheartedly.

I’ve also read many articles that point to this generation of mine as being the most accepting of others and largest advocates of equality and mutual kindness, yet I see so many kids and teenagers coming up behind us exhibiting this same level of entitlement and disrespect that I’ve seen many an adult display in multiple different avenues. So, that begs the question: Where is the disconnect? Where did this level of entitlement come from and why does it appear to be getting worse instead of better when this generation is supposed to exhibiting the opposite?

Here is where my unpopular opinion begins, and I want to tell a short story to preface it. One day, I was having a discussion during passing period with a small group of my freshmen students about the topic of respect, which my students know is the most important thing to me. I asked them, “When you meet someone new, do you expect him or her to treat you with respect and kindness even if he or she doesn’t know you?” They all answered with a unanimous, “Yes, Miss!” Then I asked, “So when you meet someone new, do you respect them right away and treat them with kindness even though you don’t know them?” And their answer shocked me. They said, “No way, they have to earn my respect.” I looked at them all, puzzled, and asked, “Do you realize how little sense that makes, and how hypocritical it is? It is completely backwards.” They laughed it off like it wasn’t a big deal, but therein lies the problem: people fail to see that it is a big deal to live in such blatant hypocrisy.

Why is it that humans have all of a sudden become so entitled to receive respect, but then do not feel as though they should have to give it? People have become so content with disrespecting, berating, and stepping on others to get what they want, but God forbid if someone does it to them. We sit here and wonder why people are so unkind to one another when I think it is partly our current mindset as a society that is fostering it.

In this generation, we have been exposed to so many Oprah-esque speeches, videos, and rants about getting what you want and doing what you want; how we “deserve” to get what we want, because apparently, just being alive entitles you to get anything your heart desires. But what I feel is implied in those, “You do you,” types of speeches is the suggestion that because you “deserve” to get what you want, how you treat other people in the process of attaining it is allowed to fall to the wayside. And yet, we expect to receive respect and kindness from anyone we come into contact with in that process. Why is it all of a sudden accepted in our society to treat other people like garbage to get what you want, but when the shoe is on the other foot, those same people raise hell about it?

I’m sorry, but there is only one thing I will accept that humans “deserve” to have, that they are born inherently deserving of, and that is an education. Everything else you think you “deserve” should be dependent on how you have chosen to treat others, whether stranger or friend, because to me that speaks hugely to your character. If you’re a shit person? No, I don’t think you “deserve” to become the CEO of your company, or to have your meal comped because the wrong topping was put on your pizza. Did you just verbally abuse a cashier in a public place for making a small mistake or for something that they cannot control? No, you should not get your money back. You should get a swift kick in the ass that boots you right out of the establishment’s door, because when people with that sense of entitlement get exactly what they want, it only fuels their idea that behaving that way is acceptable, and that it is more than okay to do it again because they have been shown that it will get them what they want.

As an educator, I’ve read many a horror story online about students who bring fiery wrath down upon a teacher when they earn an F on a test, and instead of being backed by administration, that teacher is faulted by admin, the student, and the parents, rather than the student who obviously failed to prepare for the test. I’m sorry, but when did parents suddenly begin to think that a student failing a test or a class is the teacher’s fault?

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This comic is THE perfect example of what I’m talking about. The difference between the looks on the student’s face says it all. Somehow in the years that have passed, it has become okay to challenge and disrespect the ones we are supposed to respect, even when the fault is our own, and the repeated acceptance of the behavior has only built up this level of entitlement that our society has come to foster.

I get it; generations change, expectations change, and society changes. But of all of the things for us, as humans, to begin to throw away, why did basic human understanding and empathy have to be what’s deteriorating? In its attempt to empower people, I think our society and culture has instead accidentally impressed and ingrained this air of entitlement into our young people, and for that reason, I worry about how the younger generations will move forward. Will they move as one to unite us, or will they move with an “every man for himself” mindset where all they do is step on each other to get what they believe they “deserve,” no matter the kind of person he or she has been, and be stuck in an endless cycle of anger at those who disrespect them but then go and do it to others?

I write this post because what I have seen has made me so incredibly sad, not just for the people who I have witnessed as the receivers of this rudeness and humiliation, but for us as the human race. I wish for nothing more than for people to step off of the pedestal that they have put themselves on and that society has built for them, and regain their humility, humbleness, and sense of unity with other people. We’re all on this planet for such a short time, so why waste it treading violently on the backs of others for our own benefit? Be kind. Be understanding. Be respectful, even if you don’t agree. I think you will find that this earth is far more pleasant to live on when this nonsense isn’t present.

My Top 8 Books/Series You Need to Read This Summer

Greetings from vacation in Folly Beach, SC! While most people make sure to bring their toothbrushes, underwear, and sunscreen, one of the first things I am sure to pack for an upcoming vacation is an arsenal of new books that have been sitting in my “to be read” pile, which is ever-growing and I don’t think I will ever catch up.

As an English major and someone who grew up loving to read, I have read a plethora of books; some I loved dearly, some I put down and felt nothing afterward, a feeling that I hate intensely. People from all of my walks of life have come to me asking for suggestions about what they should read. So, I have decided to compile a list of my go-to’s/favorites that I give to friends, family, etc. for all of you. Some I read awhile ago that stuck with me, and some I have read recently and touched my heart so much that they have booted others off of the list.

Before I go into the list, you have to know that I appreciate various books for their own unique reasons. I am a lover of the English language, so when an author has impeccable prose in combination with a moving/exciting/devastating/suspenseful story, they automatically solidify a place in my list. Each of the books in this list will vary by genre and audience. When I say “audience,” I mean that there are a number of YA (young adult) novels on here. I’m a sucker for a good, well-written young adult novel, and as a high school English teacher, I come across quite a few. But, don’t worry, there are adult stories on here too if YA is something you refuse to read.

So, without further ado and in no particular order, here is my top 8 books/series that you need to read this summer:

1. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (YA)

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When Violet Markey and Theodore Finch meet on the ledge of the bell tower of their high school, they aren’t expecting that both of them are there contemplating to do the same thing: jump. After literally talking themselves “off the ledge,” the two team up for a project where they must explore the natural wonders of their hometown, and along the way, Violet, who has spent her days closed off and counting down the days toward graduation, finally begins to see what life truly is, thanks to Finch. However, while Violet begins to live, Finch begins to fade into himself. Though Finch convinces Violet to back away from the ledge in the beginning, this story will have you wondering who is truly saving who until the very end.

I read this book per the suggestion of the librarian at the high school where I work, and it was the first YA book that I had read in a long while that had felt the most original, relatable, and just had a beautiful story. And while I love me some John Green, I have to say, this book took The Fault in Our Stars off of this list. In my opinion, Violet and Finch were characters I could connect with more easily than Hazel and Gus (though I still adore that story), and I think more of the younger population could, too. Now, I read this as a 23 year old adult a couple of years ago, and my sister-in-law just finished it as a 27 year old adult, and we both absolutely love it. It is the perfect combination of humor and heartache that leaves the reader with a meaningful message about love and life. Finch’s character bleeds off of the pages to the point that he feels real, and his connection with Violet is unexpected but intoxicating. Jennifer Niven is a wizard of a story-teller, and I plan to read anything and everything that she ever writes.

2. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (A)

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In Carriveau, France in the midst of World War II, Vianne must watch as her husband leaves to fight on the front, leaving her and their daughter behind. The Germans have threatened to invade the country, and when they do, Vianne is forced by a German captain to requisition her home and either live with the enemy under her own roof, or die. Her younger sister, Isabelle, who is only eighteen, feels the restless urge to do something to contribute to the war, much to Vianne’s dismay and constant objections. Isabelle meets a young man who sings the song of rebellion that she has wanted to hear, and she falls in love with him. But, when he betrays her, she decides to join the Resistance and help others, risking her own life every time. The two sisters must make life or death decisions time and time again in order to protect not only themselves, but the ones that they love.

This book was suggested to me by multiple coworkers of mine, and being a sucker for WWII historical fiction, I gobbled this book up within a few days. Very rarely is there a WWII story that brings to light the war that many women fought during this heartbreaking period of our history, let alone in the smaller villages of the countries in Europe. The individual wars that Vianne and Isabelle fight throughout this novel made my heart ache, and simultaneously had me sitting on the edge of my seat. I hurt for the sacrifices that Vianne must make for her daughter, but admired and desired her courage for myself. I rooted for Isabelle’s spunk, but also cringed and held my breath during her life-or-death decisions. And I fell in love with both of them.

3. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (A)

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Marie-Laure and her father live in Paris during World War II, down the road from the Museum of Natural History at which her father works. At the age of six, Marie-Laure goes blind, and her father builds a miniature version of their neighborhood for her to touch and memorize, and the two go out walking whenever they can so that she can count the paces from one block to another. When the Germans invade Paris, they must flee to Saint-Malo to live with her reclusive great uncle, a former soldier from WWI dealing with unbearable PTSD. Unbeknownst to Marie-Laure, she and her father carry the museum’s most valuable, but dangerous possession.  Meanwhile, in Germany, an orphan named Werner becomes fascinated with a banged up radio that he finds, and he teaches himself how to fix it and any other radio that is brought to him. This rare and coveted skill earns him a place in an academy for Hitler Youth, and he is eventually sent out into the battlefield to use his technological skills to track down the resistance. However, Werner is not an advocate for the war he is fighting, and he soon learns that his work costs too many human lives. When his convoy heads into Saint-Malo, his and Marie-Laure’s stories converge.

This was yet another suggestion from coworkers, and I am not kidding or exaggerating when I say that this is hands down, the most beautifully written story I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Doerr’s flawless word choice almost made the words float right off of the pages, wrap me up, and cuddle me into a warmth that I had never felt before while reading a book, even when the scenes I read were harsh or sad. With Werner’s half of the story comes a lot of talk about science and technology, two things of which I had never found interesting or easy. However, thanks to Doerr’s uncannily gorgeous writing, I found science and technology enchanting and mesmerizing for the first time in my life. The way that he connects science/physics/tech to the beauty of life itself moved me to my core, and this book produces one of my favorite passages of all time (again, no exaggeration). If you are in need of a moving, poignant story that demonstrates that there are people out there who just want to be good to one another, then do yourself a favor and read this book. While it isn’t like other WWII fiction that is filled with action (but I promise, there is some), it is filled with hope, a sense of unity, and unfailing courage.

4. A List of Cages by Robin Roe (YA)

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When Adam lands a position as the school psychologist’s student assistant, he thinks that he has scored the easy elective–that is, until he is asked to track down a freshman who has been skipping his appointments. That student is Julian, who is the foster brother Adam hasn’t seen in five years. At first, Adam is thrilled to reconnect with Julian, because he appears to be the same, shy, imaginative boy that Adam once knew. But, Julian is keeping secrets, both about where he disappears to during the day at school, and about what goes on outside of school. Adam wants to break Julian out of his shell and help him, but little do both boys know that they could end up in great danger because of it.

I am subscribed to a monthly YA Lit “loot crate,” and this is one of the books that I received in my box. I read this book recently, and this story moved me so much that I suggested it to my coworkers to include in our options for our freshmen to read as their independent reading novels. Adam and Julian’s characters are vastly different, and I think that the issues covered in this story are widely relatable and unfortunately, very real in a lot of cases for young people in our society. The history and progression of Adam and Julian’s friendship is touching, and Adam’s personality is so hilarious and unique. His character suffers from ADHD, and Roe does a fantastic job making his dialogue and actions indicative of this. I wanted to be Adam’s best friend, and I wanted to be Julian’s savior from himself. I cannot say enough good things about this book. From Roe’s blunt and clever prose to the heartbreaking developments throughout the plot, this book is a must for any YA lover, or teacher of young people.

5. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (YA/A)

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Twelve year old David is mourning the loss of his mother, and trying but failing to accustom himself to his father’s new wife and baby brother. As he sits in his attic bedroom, he finds solace in the fairytale books that his mother used to read with him. But then, the books begin to whisper to him from their shelves, and the stories within them come into his own world. The Crooked Man has appeared, and he wants something. World War II is raging across Europe, and David finds himself within a world that is partly his imagination, but partly a manifestation of the things he is struggling with in his actual life. In this fantasy world, David encounters wolves, dark sorceresses, and a king who is slowly fading away and keeps his secrets in a legendary book. Little does he know, the Crooked Man is following his every move, and he is in more danger than he realizes.

I first read this book in my World Literature class in college, and upon finishing it, it became one of my favorite books of all time. I have to thank my professor, Dr. Barclay, for bringing this incredible book to my attention. I had no idea what to expect when I started it, but Connolly’s haunting prose in contrast with a fairytale land spoke right to my twisted heart. He combines some familiar fairytales with some of his own creation, and puts dark twists on the familiar ones that are clever and spine-tingling. The Crooked Man is the only character that I have ever read about that literally made my skin crawl and hairs stand up on the back of my neck. His small appearances throughout the story gave me the creeps, and when I learned the disgusting and shocking truth about him, I was appalled and screaming for David to never come into contact with him again. He’s easily one of my favorite villains in literature to date. This book is discussed and deemed as the best adult novel that can appeal to the young adult population. Also, take into account that John Connolly is an Irish author, and the Irish are known for their folklore and fairytales. His lilt is apparent in his writing, and makes every sentence almost lyrical to the point that I was mesmerized by it while I read.

6. The Testing trilogy by Joelle Charbonneau (YA)

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The Seven Stages War left the world in destruction, and it is in need of rebuilding by only a chosen few. In order to become a member of the elite group in charge of this, candidates must go through the Testing, which will give them the opportunity of a college education and career in helping the greater good. When Cia Vale is accepted as a candidate for The Testing, she is ecstatic for the opportunity to follow in her father’s footsteps. But her father’s advice before she leaves sends a chill down her spine: “Trust no one.” As Cia goes through the process, she is hit with a reality that is both shocking and deadly. Can she really trust anyone? Can she trust Tomas, her childhood friend who offers an alliance and seems to have feelings for her? And, can she trust this government that has a huge secret in regards to the Testing process?

I know, I know. Another dystopian novel out in the novel-verse. But let me tell you what sets this one apart from the other ones (like The Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies). While this one mentions a love story, IT IS NOT A MAJOR PLOT POINT FOR A CHANGE. I find that super refreshing. Yes, Tomas has some feelings for Cia, but the beauty of this story is that Cia doesn’t spend her time inside of her head wondering constantly what her feelings are for this boy like Katniss does in THG, and even less than Tris does thinking about Four in Divergent. Not only that, but this series is unique in comparison to the other two famous ones. Yes, THG is twisted, but as many people know, it is similar to Battle Royale in many ways. The Testing hit me unexpectedly with some dark realizations about the government in charge, and the fact that it is kept secret from the world (rather than broadcasted like THG) makes it that much more insane. The tests themselves left me staring at my book with my mouth agape. Only those who have been a part of the Testing process know what they consist of, and they are forbidden to speak of it afterwards. While Charbonneau’s writing isn’t close to comparable to other authors in this list (still good though, obviously), I found this storyline so much more interesting than THG or Divergent, and all three novels in the trilogy were equally exciting instead of falling short in the second and third installments. If you are going to read this trilogy, the second and third books are called Independent Study and Graduation Day.

7. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey (A)

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Melanie thinks that she is just like every other little girl on the base. She wakes up, gets strapped into her wheelchair (head, neck, legs, and arms), and attends school while the guards stand at the door with their rifles at the ready. She loves to tell her favorite teacher, Miss Helen Justineau, about all of the things she wants to do when she grows up, and she doesn’t understand why that makes Miss Justineau look so sad. The reality is, Melanie isn’t like other little girls. The world has been torn apart by a fungus that turns humans into flesh-eating monsters, and Melanie is one of them. Soon, she should develop into a full “hungry,” or zombie-like creature who desires human flesh. However, Melanie appears to have a sense of control that the other students don’t, which makes her a target for research by the base’s lead scientist, Caroline Caldwell. But when the base is attacked by ravagers, Caroline, Helen, Melanie, and a couple of soldiers flee in order to hopefully continue Caroline’s research. But Helen knows that Caroline has a plan for the research, and it isn’t to keep Melanie alive. To Caroline, Melanie is another test subject–her “little genius.” But to Helen, Melanie is a student who is fascinated with the world she thinks she knows outside and has ambition, hopes, and dreams. Helen’s attempts to protect Melanie’s unique innocence creates a major dilemma: does she save Melanie but risk never finding a cure, or does she sacrifice a little girl that she knows and loves in order to possibly save hundreds?

This book came as a suggestion from a friend of mine who is a lover of the horror genre, and his suggestion did not disappoint. This books combines horror and dystopian fiction into a wild ride of deciding whether to do the right thing, or the wrong thing for the greater good. Carey’s writing is blunt and unflinching, and he does not spare any details in regards to the terror that humans have become. I, for one, have never detested a character quite so much as Caroline Caldwell (except, of course, Dolores Umbridge from the HP series), whose practical and heartless approach to every situation made me want to punch her through the pages. Melanie’s innocence and fascination with the world and her mature realization of what she is is endearing. All of the characters appear to be developed so carefully by Carey in their characterization that if the book all of a sudden just became dialogue, you would know exactly who is speaking. The story itself is fast-paced and exciting until the very end. Normally, I am not a big fan of zombie stories, but I absolutely loved this one. It is making me want to give other ones a shot.

8. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (YA)

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Cadence Sinclair is a part of a wealthy family. They travel to her grandparents’ private island just off the coast from Martha’s vineyard every summer where she spends her time with her cousins, Johnny and Mirren, and a young boy named Gat–the Liars. Her grandparents own the largest house, and the three others houses are for each of their daughters. In Summer Fifteen (as in how old Cadence was at the time), there is an accident. Cadence is found injured in the water, but she can recall nothing of what happened and experiences inexplicable migraines for the next year. She is not allowed to go to the island the next summer, but returns the summer after to find that everything on the island is different. One of the houses is sleek and updated, and even the Liars are acting different. But, no one will discuss what happened in Summer Fifteen with her. Cadence is desperate to know what happened and must piece everything together on her own until the truth finally emerges.

I devoured this book in one day. This was another recommendation from the librarian where I work, and she warned me that it was going to throw me for a loop, but when I got to the end, I wish I had had someone there to take a picture of my face, because I was dumbfounded. I did not see that ending coming, and this was the first mystery novel that genuinely made me almost stand up from my chair and yell, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” I remember walking it back down to the library in the same day, and I looked at Kathy, who was looking at me expectantly, and I said, “I don’t even have words.” She said excitedly, “I KNOW, RIGHT?!” This response is coming from a woman who is normally calm and reserved in any situation or conversation, mind you. I stood there, handing the book over to her, not even knowing where to begin with my opinion. This book is a complete mind-bender, and while Lockhart’s writing is very concise and to-the-point, man does she write a wild story. I could not put it down for even one minute. I almost forgot to eat because I was so engrossed in it and wanted to know what was going to happen next. I had to know what happened to Cadence, and when I found out, I almost flipped over the table I was reading at, and flipped myself over in the process.

I am currently reading The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck, which is another WWII historical fiction (like I said, I’m a sucker for them), and this one is already on its way to being put on this list. When I finish it, I will probably include it on this post and re-post it.

So, there you have it! I hope that you decide to pick up one of these books, and that you message me your thoughts, because I love to discuss stories that are dear to me with other people. Vacation is time for you, and if you’re a reader like I am, these are all excellent stories to get lost in while you’re laying on the beach, by the pool, on a boat, or even in a hammock in the middle of the woods. I consider them their own little vacation spots for me to visit, even when I’m laying in bed at home.

Depth.

Everyone knows someone that is a constantly slow-swinging, emotional pendulum, with one extreme on the left, the other on the right. If you don’t know of anyone, then chances are, you are that person. I know I’m that person. What kind of person is that, you may ask? We are the ones who feel emotions, no matter which ones they are, from the tops of our heads to the tips of our toes, and spread into the outermost points of our fingertips. We feel them deeper than the actual depth of our physical bodies. We feel them as if the absolute bottom of the ocean is at the center of our chest, and those emotions manage to reach the very pit of it and burrow down into the sand, making a seemingly permanent home inside of us where we cannot reach them.

I have gone my entire life being someone who feels every emotion and acts on it passionately, whether it be sadness, happiness, anger, jealousy, regret, etc. I have a small handful of people in my life who are also of the same breed, but the majority of the time, I feel as though no one understands why I react to things the way that I do. I am driven by my emotions, and my mind is always one step behind them. But what those other people don’t realize is what it’s like to be one of these people, and thus we often get dismissed as overly-emotional beings, who overreact, overdramatize, and/or overdo everything. I wish I could say that I could control it, but the heart wants what it wants, and the heart feels what it feels. And who are we to tell it to shut the hell up when it’s the thing that’s keeping us breathing and feeling? Plus, for people like us, telling it to stop is, well, next to impossible.

The truth is, I can somewhat sympathize with those people who think that of us. There are times where I look at myself in the mirror and curse the fact that I feel so intensely; but, there are other times where I thank the good Lord above for the same thing.

Why it can be Wonderful

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I want you to think about what the happiest moment of your life has been, as of today. Think about what it felt like. Now, take that feeling and amplify it by 100, and imagine feeling that in the most mundane moments. Think about what it would be like to feel that when someone simply compliments your appearance at work, or when you get to pet a random dog walking down the street. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if all of life’s simple moments felt that wonderful?

That’s what I feel in moments that make me happy. Happiness dives into my chest, burrows into the sand, and warmth spreads throughout my entire body. It emits a glow that pulses to the beat of my heart, consistently pumping that warmth through my veins and out through my pores. It stays there until another emotion comes to evict it from its spot. It’s what I felt when I was sitting in a park waiting for photography clients, and an old man with not one, not two, but THREE corgis emerged around the corner (one of them being a puppy), and upon seeing the look on my face, smiled and let the leashes go so that I was stampeded by a mass of corgi kisses and love. It’s what I feel when I see a perfectly bloomed flower in someone’s garden. They are small, unimportant things, but my heart feels them as much larger than that. And because of that, life is always in technicolor when happiness is prevailing.

Not only does happiness radiate for someone like us, but love does to. People like us love with each and every atom that makes up our being. Looking into the eyes of a significant other, husband, or wife is like diving into a pool and suddenly being able to breathe underwater. It takes our breath away every time, but then, when we realize we can breathe again, it is a release of tension, stress, and any panic that exists in our hearts. It happens every time, without fail. It’s what I felt when my first love told me he loved me for the first time. It’s what I felt when another one told me that he was so glad I was his. And in those moments, people like us might as well sprout wings and soar away because that feeling is so intoxicating. We look at our loves and take in all of the details of his or her face, shoulders, hands, and lips, because we want to be able to love every inch of them the way they deserve to be.

We give all of ourselves to these positive emotions, and therein lies our downfall.

Why it can be Simultaneously Awful

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As a result of loving so passionately, intensely, and fully, when that love is taken for granted or betrayed, the fall is excruciating. Suddenly, pain bulldozes into our chests and upheaves happiness and love from their rightful place and tears apart the bottom of that ocean until it’s a swirling mess of debris and chaos. It feels like we are exploding, and yet the outside of us remains completely intact. Little does anyone know, the brick and mortar that we have built inside over the years is being demolished by just a few words uttered from the mouth of someone we trusted, loved, and thought had a secured place in our future.

I have watched many a friend have his or her heart broken, and they have always been able to bounce back faster than I am able to. I would look at myself and ask, Why were they able to be okay, yet I’m standing here feeling as though I have lost everything? To quote the eloquent John Green, “Pain demands to be felt” (The Fault in Our Stars). It demands to be felt by everyone, but for us, it demands, and demands, and demands. It’s an unwanted solicitor that won’t take no for an answer. It’s a jackhammer chipping away at our bones until we are whittled away to nothing. It’s what I felt when the first love left, and food had no taste anymore, and I couldn’t attempt to smile without crying instead. It’s what I felt when the next one left, and I couldn’t even eat, let alone want to stay awake and endure the hurt that was patiently sitting at the edge of my bed. It sat there, waiting for me to wake up every day so it could hound me with its loud, screeching, agonizing cries that begged for relief, and begged for reasons as to why this happened again at the hands of someone who had watched it happen to me the first time, and yet turned around and did the same thing to me. It is consuming. It is blinding. And believe it or not, it is often times more than our massive hearts can handle, and telling us to “get over it” and “move on” is not only more painful, but sometimes insulting. We want to look at those people and say, “Don’t you think if we could ‘get over it’ and ‘move on,’ we would?”

Yes, pain and heartbreak is the worst of them all, but it also expands to feelings of regret, worry, anger, etc.

I want you to think about how you felt after doing the worst/meanest thing you have ever done to someone, as of today. Again, amplify it by 100, and you get what we feel when we make the simplest slip-up. It’s what I feel long after I say something that comes out the wrong way, even though the other person tells me that “it’s totally okay” and they understood that I “didn’t mean it that way.” It’s what plagued me for hours after I told a white lie to get out of something that I didn’t want to do, or because I didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. When we regret, we dream up thousands of ways that we wish we would have gone about it, and almost forget the truth of what we actually did because we want so desperately to believe that something different happened.

When we worry, we concoct every possible horrible scenario that could happen, and it consumes every thought, breath, and movement to the point that we lose all sense of what is happening in the present. When we get angry, every object in our path turns into a potential punching bag, but our hurt overshadows it and whispers in our ear that we love too much to stoop to being harmful. And as a result, that anger drills into our chest and makes our heart beat violently as if it’s imitating the punches we wish we could bring ourselves to throw.

Why it’s Important to Understand

In the most simple terms, what most people feel for a couple of hours or days (at most), we can feel for weeks, sometimes months with all of the intensity, ferocity, and depth of a thousand oceans.

If you are reading this and people are popping into your head that fit the scenarios that I’m talking about, I ask you to open your heart and your understanding to people like us. Yes, when this person literally collapses in the middle of a busy downtown sidewalk because two of her favorite breeds of dog are approaching and the owners have said that she can pet them, you can roll your eyes, but smile, too, and understand that in that moment, she is feeling her ultimate happiness and it will stick with her through any daunting times ahead (side note: I actually did this, and I thank my best friend for being one of those people who understands me when I have moments like this).

When you see that this person is in love (or getting close to it), share in that bliss with them, but be ready to catch them if they fall, because as you know, the fall is blunt and unforgiving.

When this person is feeling regret or worry, don’t dismiss them and tell them that they worry too much, to forget about it, or stop fretting. That makes it worse. Soothe them instead, and assure them that it will be okay. Remind them that what is past is past, and that life does go on after these slip-ups. Remind them that we have zero control of the future, and therefore cannot live in fear of it, because then we, as people, forget to live.

When this person is feeling pain or hurt, whether from heartbreak or other, by no means should you tell them that there are “other fish in the sea” or that they need to move on and get over it. Understand that their heart has a difficult time catching up with the reality in their head that they do not deserve the hurt that they are going through, or that the person who did this to them is a jackass and doesn’t deserve someone like them. Understand that they wanted that fish, and they are not ready to accept another fish on their line. Validate their feelings, because nothing is more comforting for them than feeling like someone, somewhere understands just how unbearable it all is. And if you’ve never experienced heartbreak, don’t say anything. Let them vent, let them cry, and hold them close, instead. Because nothing is more frustrating for them than explaining feelings with which you cannot empathize.

People like us aren’t asking to be babied. There are plenty of doses of reality that we need to open our eyes to, and we welcome those moments with open arms. We don’t want to live in a fantasy world where we are invincible. All we ask is to be understood. Understand that we feel more than most, and therefore may take small moments and blow them up into something greater than they appear to others. Understand that we take quite a bit longer to bounce back from hurt than most, and that we need you, even if we push you away.

We need you to understand because in the moment, it is nearly impossible to articulate what we are feeling. Because we have gone for so long having no one to turn to that comprehends what we go through. Because swinging on that pendulum alone from one extreme to another is both gratifying and hellish, and it’s a comfort to know that you are there to catch us if it swings too violently, and launches us into the deep abyss of a thousand emotions that demand to be felt again, and again, and again.

Jimmy.

Those close to me know that I have a slight (okay, huge) fascination with James Dean, and I’ve had many people ask me why/how I became interested in him. Whenever I was asked, the topic either changed or I honestly didn’t have enough time to tell the whole story. Most people are familiar with his face, and for most people, his face alone is enough to be interested. But, my interest in him goes much deeper than that, which I don’t think a lot of people realize.

The first time I took notice of James Dean, I was in middle school on vacation with my family. We were sitting in a restaurant, and on the wall was a poster of Jimmy sporting his signature brooding look. If you know his face, I’m sure you know the look I’m talking about. At the bottom of the poster was this quote, said by Dean himself:

“Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.”

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While I was struck by his obvious good looks and my middle school heart began to flutter, I was also mesmerized by those words and that look in his eyes. I had heard his name before in songs, heard his name referenced in movies, and I always wondered why he seemed to be so iconic. And thus, my fascination with Jimmy began.

As a youngster, of course, my obsession initially began with how impossibly handsome he was. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I decided to delve deeper into who Jimmy was, and why he appeared to have left such a mark on the world. After a quick Google search, I learned that he had only made three movies in his life, because his life had been cut short in 1955 at the age of 24 when he died in a car crash. Immediately, my heart hurt. Why? Good question. Why did my heart hurt for a man who had been dead for over 50 years and I had never met, nor would ever meet? In hindsight, I believe it’s because something inside of me knew that Jimmy’s life and his story would end up meaning a whole lot more to me than I knew at the time.

College was really the first time I dove deep into Jimmy’s story. I was reading articles online, and each reading left me wanting to know more. I read reviews of his movies, all of them hailing him as a unique talent that the world would never know again. When I finally got my hands on his most iconic film, Rebel Without a Cause, I saw precisely why. He performed with raw truth, innocence, and possessed an aura of inner torment. The wild, brooding look was there, and his talent drew me in like a siren’s song. After that, I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to see his other films, and after seeing them, my heart ached even more over the fact that a man that young, with so, so much talent, was taken away from the world too soon.

Then, I picked up the biography that was rated as the most accurate and thorough account of Jimmy’s life, The Mutant King by David Dalton. And before I get into what solidified my admiration of Jimmy, I have to interject with a quick story of myself.

Growing up, I was the only girl in my family, and one of four girl cousins (including mom and dad’s side) out of twelve, only one of which was my age. So, basically, I was always surrounded by male influences. Therefore, I grew up liking “boy stuff” in addition to my Barbies and Bratz Dollz. I loved playing with Legos, Star Wars Micro Machines, the little green army men in our sandbox in the backyard, Nerf guns, the list goes on. I loved Batman, TMNT, Power Rangers, and Pokemon. When I got to middle school and high school, it was obvious that I wasn’t like most of the other girls in my class. I wasn’t into makeup/shopping/doing my hair much, I detested Laguna Beach and The Hills, I was a major Harry Potter/LOTR geek, and I just knew I was different. I loved history and was fascinated with the 1920s and 1950s. I made the cheerleading team when I was a freshman, and that’s when I was made almost painfully aware that I was an odd bird. I got along with everyone, but I knew I didn’t quite fit in with the rest of them. And while I have always embraced who I am and have always been proud of it, it wasn’t easy to feel and be constantly reminded that I didn’t exactly fit into any particular clique or place in the hierarchy of high school. I spent those years bouncing between my cheerleading friends, choir friends, theatre friends, and friends from middle school. Everyone else seemed to have a “group,” and I didn’t. College was a relief for me, and it’s where I finally felt like I could just be me without the pressure of needing to feel like I fit somewhere.

SO, back to The Mutant King. As I read through this incredibly detailed account of Jimmy’s life, I learned that Jimmy was pretty much exactly like I was, though his high school was significantly smaller than mine. He was in a lot of different sports and extracurriculars, but found most of his happiness in theatre. He didn’t have one place that he fit. But the thing about him that resonated the most with me was that when he began his acting career, both in television and movies, he butted heads with a lot of people. He was remembered by people as initially off-putting, emotionally sporadic, narcissistic, and quiet. But those who were close to him described him as kind, goofy, and a man who loved others and loved life. When he moved to New York, he became a member of the Actors Studio, where he learned the art of method acting, and it was his method acting that became a frustration for his costars. He was notorious for doing scenes differently every time he did them, mumbling his lines, and throwing off his costars with his unpredictability. Elia Kazan, who had discovered Jimmy at the Actors Studio, encouraged his method acting when he directed him in East of Eden, and Nicholas Ray did the same for him when he directed Jimmy in Rebel. His older costars who were used to the traditional way of acting would get angry and irritated with his antics, but Kazan and Ray knew that they were getting raw, emotional, and real performances out of Jimmy by allowing him to method act. However, when Jimmy landed a supporting role in Giant aside Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor, his method acting was met with a lot of pushback from director George Stevens. Stevens was different than the previous two directors that Jimmy worked with, and he liked to spend hours upon hours of shooting and then cutting things away in the editing room, leaving Jimmy and other actors to sit doing nothing all day on set when they thought they’d be, well, acting. Method acting takes a lot out of you emotionally, so Jimmy would prepare himself to become his character (Jett Rink) and end up doing absolutely nothing. In protest to this constant interruption of his craft, he just didn’t show up to set one day, which infuriated Stevens. When Stevens threatened to kick Jimmy out of Hollywood, Jimmy met that with a cool statement about sticking to his guns. The biography also mentioned a scene or two in which Jimmy had taken his own liberties with his character (not in the script) that never made it into the final cut. But, despite a lot of angry fights and outbursts from the director, Jimmy tried to remain who he was as an actor and as an artist, and did everything he could to bring Jett Rink to life the way that he saw fit.

And that right there is why I find him beautiful, and why he is now and forever a hero in my heart. In the midst of people who wanted him to do things their way, from costars to directors, he remained 100% Jimmy. He was different, and did his damnedest to make sure that no one dulled his shine. As someone who always felt like she never really fit in any particular place, Jimmy’s story made me realize that it’s okay not to fit. It’s okay not to be liked by everyone. It’s okay to do things the way you want, even if others don’t understand it or don’t like it, because staying true to who you are as a person and as an artist are what’s going to matter down the road. Sure, Jimmy angered and frustrated a lot of people, yet he also gained a lot of love and respect from others. And what did he get by staying true to himself? Eternal glory. Eternal respect. Eternal life. He left a legacy of originality and individuality that spoke to so many misunderstood young people in the 1950s, and I know it has spoken to me as a young person in the 2000s. I look at that unforgettable face of his and am reminded every day of these lessons and stories, and they inspire me to never allow anyone to try and tear me down for being who I am.

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When I was going through the heartbreak I talked about in my last post, I ventured to Fairmount to pay my respects to this man who had made me feel like I was not alone. I had immersed myself in his story and felt understood by someone I had never met before. I read that when people visit Jimmy’s grave, they leave personal items, cigarettes, flowers, etc. So, on my way to Park Cemetery, I stopped and bought a single, red rose; something as unique and beautiful as he was. When I found his headstone, I was overcome with an emotion I couldn’t exactly understand or explain. I knelt down next to it and broke down into tears. I thanked him for assuring me that I was not alone, for reassuring me that being different is beautiful, and for inspiring me and encouraging me to stay that way. I also read (and saw proof) that women come to his grave and kiss his headstone with red lipstick, so I did, too (it’s the one right above the “e” and “s” in “James”). In addition to my rose, I clipped a keychain off of my car keys (a letter “S” from Coach) that I had owned since I was sixteen, and attached it to the rose. I don’t remember how long I sat there, but I know it was a good, long while.

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The events surrounding Jimmy’s death are eerie, and are just another aspect of his story that make him so fascinating to me. I could go on for hours about all of the different coincidences, but I’ll just talk about my favorite ones. First, Jimmy’s Porsche Spyder, “Little Bastard,” is said to have been cursed after his death. The car was taken apart and parts from it were sold. Apparently, those who put the parts of Little Bastard into their own cars all ended up in automobile accidents. Second, Jimmy had told multiple people that he didn’t expect to live past the age of 30, and made a comment to another friend that if he were to die, he would want it to be a car crash, because he would at least go out in a blaze of glory. And last, while filming for Giant, Jimmy also filmed a PSA about safe driving. The line he was supposed to say was, “The life you save could be your own.” But, in typical Jimmy fashion, he changed the line on camera and said, “Take it easy driving. The life you might save might be mine.” And, sure enough, due to someone else’s careless driving, Jimmy was no longer alive just short of a couple of weeks later.

Now, what I am about to tell you is going to sound a little crazy, but I swear on my life, it is true. I remember at one point during these months of reading, researching, and self-discovery, saying to a friend of mine, “I wish I could have met him, because I feel like we would have been good friends.” And I shit you not, I dreamt about him only a couple of nights later. In the dream, we were stepping out of a car together, he in a tux, and me in a gown, onto a carpet to head into some kind of premiere together. As reporters flocked to us, he held his arm out in front of him and said, “Now, now, make way for me and my beautiful wife.” And he looked at me and smiled. That is all I remember of the dream, but the moment was as vivid and felt as real as me sitting here at my laptop typing this now. I can still feel his hand on the small of my back, leading me down the walkway. Weird? Absolutely. But damn, was it cool.

So, there you have it. To me, Jimmy is more than just a pretty face and unforgettable talent. He is my inspiration, my reminder, and my forever positive influence to stay true to myself, no matter who or what tries to get in my way. And I will always be thankful for seeing his face on that poster in the restaurant all those years ago.

Paciencia y fe.

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“One of the hardest things you will ever have to do, my dear, is grieve the loss of a person who is still alive.”

— Jeanette Walls, The Glass Castle

In 2015, in my naivety and apparent blindness, I came to the conclusion that I would never again have to face the pain of heartbreak. I was in a long-term relationship with the “man” of my dreams (using the term “man” strictly for the purpose of the cliche, not because it holds any truth), and he had promised me a ring. Nothing could break me, as long as I had him. It wasn’t until only four days into 2016 and we had been together for three years that I realized that was the problem, because on that day, that conclusion that I had drawn was no longer a conclusion, but a story that all of a sudden had no ending. The epilogue of our story no longer existed, because we no longer existed together.

I will spare you full the story, because the reality is, the details don’t matter. What I do want to talk about is how it felt, because I know there are so many people in this world that are going through this, and like me, felt as though no single person around them understood what it was like. And I hope that even one person who is in pain and whose heart feels like a blackhole can read this and know that he or she is not alone. I want to share my healing in the hopes that another person can begin to heal as well.

I could take hours trying to explain what it was like, but the only phrase that keeps coming back around the circle in my head is that I felt like I was dying. Upon hearing the words through that small speaker in my phone, I felt like the bed I was lying in had suddenly dropped out from underneath me. It felt as though my veins had suddenly frozen and shattered. It felt like the Incredible Hulk had smashed his fist through my ribcage, grabbed my heart, and tore it from my chest. My stomach had dropped, and for days, it remained in a permanent state of free fall, making me nauseous and unable to eat or drink anything. I was crying myself to the point of dehydration, and couldn’t go to work. I couldn’t look at my parents, my brother, even my friends without bursting into tears because their own looks of concern and sadness drove me into a further emotional spiral that I couldn’t get out of. I was surrounded by support, but the majority of the time, I still felt completely alone. I was functioning on auto-pilot when I finally got myself back to work. I was a walking corpse. And in hindsight, I have realized why.

I had lost my sense of self, because I had foolishly put all of myself into “us” instead of keeping myself separately and securely, “me.” Those who know me know very well that I’ve always been an independent person, and have always embraced who I am. I had always told myself that I would never allow a boy to take that away from me, but, I’ll be honest, love makes you do some stupid shit. And stupid shit is what I did. I lost me. I molded my future based on “us” rather than continued to mold myself separately. So when he left, I was left with nothing. I had lost it all, and I had lost myself.

Luckily, she was still lurking beneath the surface. She had been laying dormant while the naive part of me continued to be fooled and deceived into believing that I was officially immune to heartbreak. It’s been about a year and a half since that immunity to heartbreak was proven to be incorrectly diagnosed, and I am the happiest I have ever been. Happier than I ever was with him. Losing my sense of self isn’t the only thing about my relationship that I’ve discovered in hindsight; I’ve seen true colors so brightly pigmented that I cannot believe I was blind to them. I’ve realized that what I had was definitely not what I wanted, and that love really can make a person completely oblivious to a lot of obvious truths. I have finally resurfaced, and life is once again beautiful.

But, the process of revealing her again was long, tedious, and took a lot of coaxing. My steps to healing took longer than I would have liked, and as I learned from many people, every person heals at his or her own pace. There is no timeline as to when a person will begin to feel better. There were still times six months after the fact that I was still breaking down in tears in the shower, in the bathroom at work, etc. But, that’s what happens when you lose yourself.

I want to share what I learned in my journey to reestablishing my sense of self, and how I went about it. Whether it is your first time experiencing it, second, third, fourth, etc., it is not easy. But, there are ways to make it easier. So, if you or someone close to you is going through what I went through, here are some suggestions:

  1. Grieve.

    Please, please allow yourself to feel. In those initial moments, emotions will run wild and rampant through your heart, and ignoring them will only be akin to throwing wild animal after wild animal into an enclosure until the capacity is reached, and there will be a moment where you try to fit just one more into the mix and they will all storm out at the same time and trample you, leaving you with nothing. That is where rock bottom is, and you do not want to allow yourself to get there. Feel. Let the pain rip you apart from the inside out, because my love, you will be stronger for it. Take a couple of days to just feel. I promise you, it will be okay.

  2. Surround yourself with support.

    After those couple of days, let people help you. I guarantee that the hurt you are feeling is just as painful for those around you who care about you (I, personally, have never seen my dad so lost and unsure of what to do except for wish he could take my pain for himself), and even though your initial reaction is going to be to shut everyone out, please let them in. You will be surprised how wonderful it will feel to let your mind be occupied by MarioKart, stupid movies, or whatever else your friends and family want to drag you to do. Yes, when they are not around, your mind will snap back to the pain, but do not push away your loved ones. You do not and should not have to endure this alone.

  3. Travel.

    If you’re old enough to travel by yourself, do it. Only a couple of months after heartbreak, I decided to take a four-day, three-night trip to James Dean’s hometown by myself; a place I had always wanted to go. I was still in pain, and still looking for ways to rediscover who I was, and this was the biggest leap I made in getting her back again. Traveling alone will allow you to be on your own schedule, with no one around to please but yourself. You don’t have to fit anyone else’s agenda, likes/dislikes, or worry if anyone else is having a good time. You just have to do you, and laying in a hotel/motel/B&B in a new place will give you a sense of freedom and independence that is so gratifying and empowering that you will feel unstoppable. Take that time alone to reflect not only on the pain that you are feeling, but on who you want to be. I enjoyed it so much that I did it again when I was finally me again, and it was even more enjoyable the second time.

  4. Rediscover old hobbies.

    Maybe in the midst of your relationship, you stopped doing something that you loved because your free-time was taken up by that other person. Maybe you were afraid that the other person would think it was stupid/lame/weird, so you gave it up in order to appease them. Whatever the reason, go back to it. It’s a simple thing, but it’s good for your mind and your soul to pick up something that you had once left and find the joy in it again. That’s what your heart is missing, and it deserves to have it back.

  5. Read mystery/fantasy books.

    I know that reading isn’t for everyone, and that this worked for me because I majored in English, teach it, and just love reading in general. BUT, hear me out: even if you aren’t a big reader, there is something to be said about allowing yourself to escape into a world that isn’t your own. Right now, your world is most likely filled with regret, pain, sadness, anger, etc. Live the life of someone else before you go to bed. I specify mystery and fantasy for a couple of reasons. With mystery novels, you have to think, and it’s exciting to gather evidence along with your protagonist. You’ll find yourself working things out in your mind, making predictions, and wondering if you’ve discovered the author’s imminent plot twist before it happens. Before you know it, your mind will be occupied for a good, long while, and for that time, your heart can have a break. With fantasy novels, you enter a world that is vastly different from this one, with made up lands, creatures, etc. The picture that gets painted in your head of what this fantasy world looks like is completely unique to you, and is different from every other person who reads that book, and dammit, that is an amazing thing. I say mystery and fantasy because they usually have nothing to do with love stories, and if you decide to read a love story, I guarantee you, it will do you no favors. Read things that make you think, that make you excited, fascinated, and filled with anticipation. Those are things your heart is devoid of right now, and it wants to feel them.

  6. Block the person from ALL social media.

    This is something that I struggled doing, but once I made the commitment to doing it, my healing happened a lot quicker. Unfriend and block him/her on Facebook, unfollow and block him/her on Twitter/Instagram, un-add and block him/her on Snapchat. You will drive yourself insane and further perpetuate your hurt by constantly seeing updates about what he or she is doing. It will hurt to see that his or her life is going on without you, and that is a guarantee. If he/she left, he/she does not deserve to know what is going on in your life either, because he/she has chosen not to be a part of it. And you will find yourself posting things in the hopes that he or she will see it, and that is not what a strong person would do. Be strong for yourself, and post things for yourself, not to gain his/her attention back.

  7. Make a project to-do list.

    Another great way to keep your mind busy is to get your butt onto Pinterest and find some fun DIY projects to spruce up your bedroom, living area, kitchen, etc. Over the past year, I have given my room a complete makeover, and have turned it into a sanctuary rather than just a place for me to sleep, and it has been a lot of fun for me to transform it. Giving yourself projects to do will awaken that creative section of your brain and will help to occupy it when it starts to wander toward pain again.

  8. Do not start dating again until you are READY.

    I cannot tell you how many horror stories I have heard from friends who decided after a break-up to hook-up with someone, whether the person was from Tinder, a friend, etc. Sure, it may work in the moment, but you will come back feeling just as empty as you did before. It does nothing for you in the long-term, and that is what you have to focus on. I joined Tinder about a month or so after my break-up, hoping that it would give me a confidence boost just to see that people were interested in me, but as soon as I would get asked on dates, I plummeted back into sadness again, because every single time, I realized that my heart was not ready. I only went on one date as a result of that app, and nothing became of it. I cannot tell you how many times I deleted and re-downloaded the app, and eventually, it just got annoying to continuously be disappointed by the kinds of guys who were on there. So, don’t make the mistake that I did in those first couple of months; take time for you, and only you. Don’t begin to let other people in until you are fully happy with yourself again.

  9. Don’t “be friends.”

    Disclaimer: I know that there are people in the world who have managed to stay friends with their exes, but for me, completely eliminating this person from my life was the best thing I could have done for myself. He was my first love, and even if I had tried to be friends with him, it would have been painful to endure that friendship every day for the rest of my life. Not keeping them in your life doesn’t erase what you had, but it will allow you to recreate yourself, your life, and possibly eliminate the chance of always comparing a new love to the old one. If you are going to remain friends, still follow what number 8 says until you know you are emotionally capable of bringing that person back into your life. Just understand that if you are dating someone new, bringing back this person could cause problems for this new relationship from the new person’s side (jealousy, suspicion about old feelings, etc.), and could stir up those old feelings that you have. And that is precisely why I decided I could not do it myself. Out of sight, out of mind. Ultimately, what you choose to do in this respect is completely up to you, but if you are someone like me whose heart is bigger than the Atlantic Ocean, and when it feels, it feels with every fiber of its being, then this is the option that will be best for you in the long run. By no means whatsoever is it easy, but sitting here typing this now, holy shit, I am so thankful that the me of the past decided to do that.

Like I said before, the process of healing is going to be different for every person, and so is the amount of time that it will take. And just like the quote at the beginning says, mourning the loss of this person who is still existing is easily one of the hardest things that you will ever have to do. It was harder for me than the multiple actual deaths that I had experienced in my life, and I wish I was joking. But, a large part of mourning is celebrating life. In this case, you won’t be celebrating the life of this other person, but the rebirth of yourself into this new life, where you are rediscovering who you are, learning, and growing. The “you” that existed with this other person is dead, and the “you” that was suffocated for so long is getting his or her chance to walk, breathe, feel, and most importantly, love again. Do not be afraid of this. Embrace it. Live it. Feel it.

“Paciencia y fe” translates to “patience and faith.” Be patient with yourself and understand that healing will not come to you overnight, nor will it be easy. Have faith in yourself to get through, and have faith that you will love again, because you will. It won’t feel like it a week after, or a month, or maybe even a year, but you will, and dammit, it will be more wonderful than the boy or girl who broke your strong, beautiful heart.

Wonder Woman Review

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Like most women in our society, I was ecstatic when the first trailer for Wonder Woman premiered in theaters. I’ve grown up loving superheroes (Batman, mostly), and I’m not going to lie and say that I wasn’t pumped to finally have a superhero movie with a female as the main hero. The previews had me bouncing up and down in my theater seat like a six year old who had forgotten to go pee before the show started. I couldn’t wait to see Diana wreak some havoc on evil and throw some truth into this world with that lasso of hers.

As a woman who loves the Marvel and DC universes being put onto the big screen, I was anxious to see what Hollywood would do with this powerful, Amazonian character. Would she be sexualized? Would she be sidetracked from her mission by a debonair man and unnecessary love story? Or would she kick total ass and destroy the patriarchy of Hollywood? Well, I finally saw the film that I was so excited for, and (SPOILERS and UNPOPULAR OPINIONS ahead), I walked out feeling rather…irritated.

**SECOND WARNING FOR SPOILERS AND UNPOPULAR OPINIONS AHEAD**

I’m not going to sit here and bash the film, because it definitely wasn’t bad. I enjoyed it; it was surprisingly funny, the cinematography was fabulous, and I left with the aspiration of hopefully becoming an Amazon woman in my next life. BUT, I have some gripes about it that I can’t seem to shake.

First Gripe: The writing was just…oi. I know that every superhero movie comes with a guaranteed certain level of cheese, but some of the lines in the movie were painful to listen to. Watching David Thewlis scream, “I WILL DESTROY YOU!” made me cringe back in my seat. I mean, we’re talking about Ares, the ancient god of war, here. Years upon years of life and experience on Earth, and that’s what he’s got for Diana in the final battle? Not what I would have heard in my head while writing the script for this movie. Maybe part of my cringing was me being unable to shake seeing Thewlis as Professor Lupin in the Harry Potter franchise, and that’s why I couldn’t take it seriously…I mean, come on, cuddly werewolf Professor Lupin screaming a horribly cheesy line like that? No, no. I would have preferred a more sinister, deep, statement about bringing Diana to her demise rather than an animalistic, and simple yell of destruction. It made me stifle laughter rather than want to yell, “GO, DIANA, GO!”

Second Gripe: While Gal Gadot looked INCREDIBLE as Diana, some of her acting was equally a little cringeworthy. Surprisingly, it was more so in the simple lines rather than the ones powered by emotion. Her anger and sadness over mankind and its flaws was portrayed beautifully. I loved the scenes where she is fueled by her frustration and misunderstanding of mankind and expresses it to Steve who tries, but fails, to explain it to her. Gadot really did do a wonderful job communicating Diana’s attempts to understand this world that is so different from hers. Those scenes were fantastic. BUT, there were a lot of other points where I just didn’t buy into her character. Again, maybe the writing didn’t help the delivery, but man, some of it was hard to watch. I know she’s not an actress by trade, and that she is, in fact, a real-life badass. So, I’m not going to knock it too much. But, some of those scenes were just…eek.

Third Gripe: I thought the love story between Steve and Diana was absolutely unnecessary. After the hype of a female superhero movie began, I thought, “Wow, MAYBE, JUST maybe, this movie will focus more on making women look powerful instead of dependent on men to save them or help them.” I’m sitting in the theater looking at Diana getting crushed slowly by Ares (a man/god), and she is looking into the sky as Steve flies away in a plane filled with mustard gas, which he is about to blow up in order to save thousands of people in WWI, and in turn, sacrifice his own life. And instead of Diana summoning her own strength to defeat Ares, it requires her watching the man she loves blowing himself up in order for her to get angry enough to break free and destroy Ares? Maybe I’m looking at it wrong, but that to me was the exact thing I was hoping this movie would avoid. I wanted Diana to be strong, empowered, and not have a male character influence that power in any way. I hoped for her to draw her strength from her own desire to save mankind, not get so angry and sad over her dead, unofficial boyfriend that she summoned enough power to defeat the horrible god of war. That just bothered me so much, and I can’t get over it. I would have been more satisfied if she and Steve had left their friendship the way it was, because I think it would have enhanced her individuality and power as a heroine. If someone interpreted it differently, please share in the comments (respectful discussion only–anyone commenting for the sake of starting an argument, please do not bother) because I would love someone to change my mind.

Now, I’ll talk about what I loved about the movie, so that you all don’t think that I hated it, because I really didn’t.

First Love: The fight scene choreography was EPIC. From the first fight on the beach of Themyscira to the final battle between Diana and Ares, every single fight scene had the perfect level of Amazonian badassery that I was waiting for. From seemingly impossible bow and arrow shots, to Diana taking on machine gun fire with her shield singlehandedly, and the slow motion shots of her acrobatics, my GOD. The choreography and cinematography of everything was top notch and I loved it.

Second Love: The Amazons were absolutely dope. Personally, I think Robin Wright’s role was too short and I wish we could have seen more of her character, but overall, the Amazons’ ferocity had me internally shouting, “YAAAAAAAAAAAS!” for the entire first part of the movie. I actually think I shook my friend’s arm and hit it a couple of times, just out of pure excitement over their tenacity.

Third Love: Diana didn’t take any shit from anyone in this movie, and that at least lived up to the girl power that I was hoping for in the film. I had seen a list of tweets about the movie before going to see it that made no sense to me, but upon seeing it, those tweets are absolutely true and hilarious. Every time someone in the movie told Diana no, don’t, it can’t be done, etc., she just did it anyway and proved them all wrong, thus only further proving her ability to take zero shit from anyone except Diana herself. Click here for the tweets that I’m talking about.

SO, whoop, there it is. Overall, a good film. I’m excited for the Justice League movie after this, and hope that Diana can retain her girl power and not let it be overshadowed/diminished by Batman, Aquaman, Flash, Cyborg, and Superman.